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General Information: History and Doctrine


Diagram showing a timeline of Church history

"A group of young Catholic men came to my Kalyvi [monastic hut—Webmaster]. They were very eager and interested to learn more about Orthodoxy. 'Please tell us something that will help us spiritually,' they said. 'Look,' I replied, 'go and take a look at Church History and you will see how in the past we were united and then you took your own way and ended up where you are. Do this and you will be helped. When you are done, come back and we'll have plenty to talk about."

—Elder Paisios the Athonite (+1994), from With Pain and Love for Contemporary Man, p. 384.
The diagram, with date-specific notes, can be found on the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese Web site.
If this diagram is too hard to read, try this one.

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History of the Orthodox Church, excerpts from The Orthodox Church, by Bishop Kallistos (Ware).

Doctrine of the Orthodox Church, excerpts from The Orthodox Church, by Bishop Kallistos (Ware).

The Orthodox Church: A brief overview of the Eastern Orthodox Church's history and teaching. Some contemporary moral questions are also addressed, as well as the subject of the church building.

GOA Web site: Our Faith. A collection of articles on various Orthodox Christian topics.

Christianity and Orthodoxy, by Archimandrite Sergius. A survey of Church history and the meaning of the term "Orthodox." The Orthodox Church's place in Christianity.

A Brief History of the Irish Orthodox Church, from the 2003 St. Herman Calendar.

Theology and Mysticism in the Tradition of the Eastern Church, by Vladimir Lossky. Introduction to his book The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church.

I Believe: A Short Exposition of Orthodox Christian Theology: from the St. Nectarios Press wall calendar.

The Truth of Our Faith: A Discourse from Holy Scripture on the Teachings of True Christianity, By Elder Cleopa of Romania. Chapter excerpts on a variety of topics.

The Law of God, by the Ever-Memorable Metropolitan Philaret.

Exposition of the Orthodox Faith: [Book I |Book II |Book III |Book IV]. St. John of Damascus is one of the greatest Saints and theologians of the Orthodox Church. He lived during the eighth century. This book is considered to be one of the Church's most important dogmatic texts, summarizing and synthesizing the major tenets of Orthodox theology.

Concerning Faith and Baptism, by St. John of Damascus.

A Short Orthodox Catechism, from The Orthodox Page in America run by Michael Vezie

Introduction to The Oecumenical Synods of the Orthodox Church, by Protopresbyter James Thornton.

The Synod of Constantinople (879-880), concerning the Filioque. From The Oecumenical Synods of the Orthodox Church, by Protopresbyter James Thornton.

The Acts and Decrees of the Synod of Jerusalem, a Synod held in 1672 concerning a work entitled The Eastern Confession of the Christian Faith, which attempted to express Orthodox beliefs in Protestant terms, specifically Calvinism. It was allegedly written by the former Patriarch of Constantinople, Cyril (Loukaris). The "Confession of Dositheos" starts at the bottom of p. 110, and remains an excellent expression of Orthodox theology vis-à-vis Calvinism. Protopresbyter James Thornton offers further historical insights in this excerpt from his book The Oecumenical Synods of the Orthodox Church.

The Synod of Constantinople (1872), concerning phyletism and "Neo-Papism". From The Oecumenical Synods of the Orthodox Church, by Protopresbyter James Thornton.

Recommended Books

The Law of God, compiled by Archpriest Seraphim Slobodskoy. This text has become a twentieth-century classic, serving as the chief catechetical text in most Russian Orthodox parishes. It provides basic instruction in all essential matters of the Orthodox Faith, as well as commentary on all key passages of the Old and New Testaments.

Orthodox Dogmatic Theology by Fr. Michael Pomazansky. It is indispensable. For a highly favourable and scholarly review of this exceptional work see The Greek Orthodox Theological Review, 32, 1-2, 1986.

The Roman West and the Byzantine East, by Archbishop Chrysostomos and Bishop Auxentios. This is a superb, short treatment of general differences between East and West. "This little book takes us back to the quest for truth and tells us why we Orthodox believe that our Church is true to the Church established by the Apostles, why she has historical and spiritual primacy. It does so by pointing out differences and by the bold proclamation of Orthodoxy's uniqueness." [from the back cover]. Also, I cannot resist including this excerpt from p. 10: "All history, one might say, is artificial... The Western view of the Christian past, however, is particularly artificial—it is a rather a "whopping lie," as the modern idiom would have it, if only because it ignores the historical experience of more than half of the Christian world, the Christian East, from which Western Christianity itself derives! Yet, it has gained such ascendancy that one is hesitant to challenge it. It is so ubiquitous that even Eastern Christians, especially those living in the West, often embrace it themselves. And if they do not, in fact, embrace it as their personal view, they often feel compelled to speak within its framework in trying to present their own perspectives on the Christian past. The Western view has, indeed, become triumphant, despite its inadequacies in accounting, as we shall see, for a vast part of Christian history."

The Oecumenical Synods of the Orthodox Church, by Protopresbyter James Thornton. “[...T]he Œcumenical Synods[...]occupy a place of paramount importance in the Orthodox Church. [...]Held between 325 and 787, they were summoned by the ruling Roman (Byzantine) Emperors to defend the Church when the fundamentals of Christian belief and teaching came seriously under threat. It often happened that certain heresies, all involving directly or indirectly the Person of Jesus Christ, loomed so large in the Christian world that they required a decisive response on a scale that encompassed the whole of Christendom, one that made crystal-clear to everyone precisely where the True Church of Christ stood and why She stood there. The dogmatic theology that derives from Œcumenical Synods[...]has ‘direct consequences for man’s salvation’ because each system of belief dictates its own unique way of life. [...]Thus, the debates about theology that seem (for example, to some secular historians) as quibbling over minor or abstruse questions were not quibbling at all, and the questions were neither minor nor abstruse. The debates involved issues of life versus death.”

Eastern Patristic Thought and Orthodox Theology, by Constantine Tsirpanlis. Collegeville MN: The Liturgical Press, 1991. Pp. 214 + Appendices, Notes, and Indices. $16.95, paper. Read an book review.

The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, by Vladimir Lossky. A twentieth-century classic. Read the Introduction.

The Ways of Russian Theology, by Father Georges Florovsky. The entire text of this seminal work is available online from the Myriobiblios site.